i'm wolf blitzer in "the situation room." we want to once again welcome our viewers in the united states and around the world. "the new york times" is reporting the plane experienced significant changes in altitude after it lost contact with ground control and altered its course more than just once as if still under the command of a pilot. joining us now is michael schmidt, he's one of the reporters from "the new york times" who wrote this story. also joining us, cnn's richard quest. charles barnett, he's the 777 pilot, also an aviation attorney. michael, thanks very much for coming in. let's talk about your report. give us the upshot. what did you learn? >> basically this plane moved in several different directions after it went off -- >> after the transponders stopped sending information. >> correct, correct. >> to ground control. >> at first it goes -- shortly after it goes off the radar, it goes up to 45,000 feet, which is above its normal flying altitude. and then shortly after that, it's down around 20,000 feet, which is below its normal
altitude. now, along with -- >> then it goes back up again. >> then it goes back up again. while this is all happening, it is changing directions, it has moved west, it has turned back around and whatever. so all of this suggests this erraticness that has really led investigators to say, well, who was flying the plane at that point. it clearly wasn't flying itself. if it was, that certainly doesn't make any sense. and now they're trying to figure out who had control of the plane at that point. there's also this information that they received from the engines that shows that the -- on the engines that the plane fell about 40,000 feet in the span of a minute, but when the u.s. investigators looked at this information, it doesn't make any sense. so it's a sort of mess of numbers and data that they're trying to figure out. >> where are they getting this information from if the transponders weren't sending any information, how did they come up with this erratic behavior? >> well, what they've relied on is other radar systems,
noncivilian radar systems that were picking up different things. the other thing that they've relied on are pings, these messages, these pings that went out from different equipment on the plane. the rolls royce engines sent out pings that went back to rolls royce that said that the plane had fallen 40,000 feet in a minute. and what i heard today from law enforcement officials here is that the information they're getting has gotten better and better in recent days as different pieces on the plane have sent back different pings to their manufacturers who were tracking it through satellites. these are not pings that were easily obtainable in the days afterwards but as time has gone on, that information has gotten better and they anticipate it will get better going into the weekend. now, will this tell them exactly where it is, they say no, but it's certainly better off than they were just a few days ago. >> after this erratic behavior, 45,000 down to 23,000 back up to 30-something thousand, did it
continue flying for four or five hours? >> it continues on for several more hours and the question is, where does it go at that point and what other information do we have about where it ends up? obviously if we knew that we wouldn't be talking. >> some of this information, i don't want you to share confidential sources, coming from rolls royce, the manufacturer of these engines. >> the information we're relying on is information that's come back to the united states, to u.s. investigators here who are looking at similar stuff to what they're looking at in malaysia, but the problem that some people were talking about today in washington to us was that the malaysians have not been totally open with the united states about everything that they have and all their investigate everybody leads. and in this instance, on this information, it's stuff that's coming back to western companies and to the ntsb and the faa who have access to it and who are also sharing it with them. but what the frustrations are on the u.s. side is on the investigative side. they say that the malaysians are not being open and transparent with them in the way they had
hoped. >> as they would have liked. hold on a minute, i want richard quest and chuck barnett to weigh in. richard, first to you, what do you make of this information that "the new york times" is reporting? >> first of all, congratulations on this information on this scoop for want of a better word. this is good solid reporting. what i make of it, it's very significant, absolutely incredibly significant. this gives us the sort of detail that you now need to know to reduce the parameters of what took place. once you're getting this very -- i'm assuming it's reliable and we're waiting for confirmation, but i don't doubt "the new york times" in this respect. once you start getting this sort of detail, then you can start to pinpoint was it somebody in the cockpit? was the plane overtaken? was it just -- remember, planes are designed to fly even if nobody's at the wheel, so to speak. it has a natural inherent stability about it.
was it these areas? were the pilots literally wrestling with the controls? i've got one question for michael of the "times." do you as a result of this, sir, well maybe when wolf's ready for this, but do you as a result of this, have a preferred option for why this took place? >> i have no idea. and given all the things that have come out in the past few days it would be knee enaive of even speculate on that. one thing we talked about earlier was there were a lot of lithium batteries on this plane. i know you're reporting that they're looking at the batteries. we've been told there were a substantial number of lithium batteries on the plane. what does that mean and did that have anything to do with it? >> as far as the lithium batteries in the cargo hold, michael, and i think this is significant, if there was some sort of explosion or fire, lithium bat ris have been blamed for that in other crashes, how
can the plane fly for five hours or so? even if there was a large box of lithium batteries in the cargo hold, it doesn't explain that. chuck barnett, i'll come back to you. we'll get your take on this new information. the breaking news we're covering in our special "situation room" report, much more right after this. ♪ [ chicken caws ] [ male announcer ] when your favorite food starts a fight, fight back fast with tums. heartburn relief that neutralizes acid on contact and goes to work in seconds. ♪ tum, tum tum tum tums!
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crashed into the indian ocean, although there's no certainty according to these u.s. official. one route towards the northwest, another to the south. whichever way it went, authorities tell cnn the plane likely, once again likely, crashed somewhere in the indian ocean. the other breaking news from "the new york times," which is reporting the plane experienced significant changes in altitude after it lost contact with ground control, altered its course more than once as if it was still under the command of a pilot or someone in the cockpit. joining us once again, michael schmidt, he's one of the reporters of "the new york times" who wrote that story. also with us, cnn's richard quest. charles barnett, he's a 777 pilot and an aviation attorney and also joining us the former chief of staff of the faa, the federal aviation administration, michael goldfarb. i want you to talk about this "new york times" story. the plane is detected going up from its normal cruising level of about 35,000 feet to 45,000,
then going down to 23,000, then back up to 30,000, then flying for several hours. what do you make of that? >> well, it's interesting from an aerodynamic standpoint. the surface ceiling of the airplane is 41,500. if the plane is up at 45,000 feet, the margin between overspeeding the aircraft getting into what's sometimes called mach tuck going way too fast for the airplane and stalling the airplane becomes very, very small. you're up there in a very dangerous situation. the airplane is likely to come down on its own accord at that point. it can't sustain flight there. we talked about the stability of the airplane. most airliners are very stable. what could describe that flight path is something that pilots refer to as a fugoid where the nose is seeking a trimmed position. it's sort of like making a paper
airplane as a child when it goes up in the air and goes down and goes back up until it finds a comfortable spot as far as air speed goes. an airliner if not controlled by a pilot could do the same thing. >> michael goldfarb, what's your analysis? >> here we end the week with better defined speculative theories. you see the imprint of the ntsb and the faa helping the malaysians finally. but this is good solid evidence that we're beginning to verify what "the new york times" has reported as far as the changes in altitude with the military ping of the radar, so we're beginning to get a sense of where this plane goes. we're also hearing -- i think this is ntsb's doing that the lithium ion batteries, which is an issue in aviation, ntsb doesn't want them carried at all. last year the rules changed to 66 pounds of these batteries being carried. they're looking clearly at structural causes as well. >> in the cargo hold? >> absolutely. >> but if there were an
explosion or fire couldn't the plane have -- >> not necessarily. >> even for hours? >> we've had catastrophic where hawaiian air half the fuselage were gone. if it were a slow explosion you could disable acars and the transponder, the pilots could have been disoriented, yet the plane if they made that turn and that heading the plane could have continued on its own. whether or not the issue of the pilots, something nefarious going on. >> and michael schmidt, you're about to report in "the new york times" and we've reported it earlier on cnn that there were these lithium batteries in the cargo hold, but what you're reporting is that there was a significant amount. do you know how much? >> we don't know exactly how much, but they said that it was more than a normal that would be inside in the cargo hold. and these planes can take -- you probably know this better than i do, an enormous amount of cargo more so than probably any other passenger plane. so you have a significant load of lithium batteries on this plane and a lot of other -- we
don't know what else was in the cargo hold. and this is one thing that they looked at initially in the days after and they thought would be a real key to it. but as we were talking about the fact that the plane does so many other things. >> right. >> takes away from that. >> but the profile, the subsequent profile that it was caused by catastrophic or some kind of structural is still in line with what could have been a physical -- >> guys, we've got to take another quick break, but thanks very much, michael schmidt, especially to you, thanks for your very good reporting. we'll continue our "situation room" special report, more on the breaking news coming up. [ male announcer ] this is karen and jeremiah. they don't know it yet, but they're gonna fall in love, get married, have a couple of kids,
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most likely location of the plane. tom, what are you learning? >> in all these mysteries, this is the mistily we've been watching the most lately which is how they've been trying to use satellites to figure out this has moved. these are the search areas. we've seen the flight path that we've talked about so many times. this is the initial search area, more of them. now it's been moving steadily west. now we have these new search areas that the u.s. is focusing on up in the bay of bengal and down here. how do they get here? it has to do with a satellite. there's a satellite out there that's used for commercial purposes that hour by hour ping ors does an electric handshake with every airplane it can see. that says you are there, you are there, you are there.nts are in case it needs to reach them later. one hour later it will do the
same electronic handshake again. if you have a plane flying along here it has some very vague idea of the arc on the earth that this plane is traveling. this is not really a locator. it's not really a gps but essentially you're looking at the angle between the satellite and the plane and the earth and you're doing the math, the geometry of it, and it gives you some idea where the plane might be. there were five pings accord to go this official, five pings from this plane to the satellite and that's one of the reasons that they have an idea that the plane was still going and by extrapolating those pings they have those handshakes, they have an idea that it would be somewhere out here. the key finding in all of this is if their use of this satellite, it's not really meant to be used this way, you but if their math is right, this gives them some idea where the plane was one hour before it missed
the next ping. because the satellite asked again and there was no answer. so if you take all the information up to that point, now you say we have one dark hour where we have no idea where it was and that gives us at least some better idea of where it was in those other hours when there's really no other information. wolf, it's very difficult to explain the technology, we're still trying to define it, but this is where all of that information is coming from that has led u.s. searchers to these waters. >> it looks like the worldwide resources and a lot of others really helping to try to unravel this mystery, right, tom? >> absolutely. as the officials themselves say, this is an untried idea. they're basically doing math and using the technology that's not meant for this to see if they can squeeze out of it information and when you have no information, it may be immensely helpful. right now they think that it's gotten them at least closer to an answer to the big mystery. where does it go? what happens?
>> tom foreman, thank you very much. much more of the breaking news information coming up on cnn. we're watching "the situation room" special report. the mystery of flight 370. first, this impacts your world. growing up, actress wendy davis thought something was wrong with her. >> i had very low self-esteem and i felt that i was defective, had a tough time staying seated in class. always found the window next to my desk and the things that were happening outside of the classroom far more interesting. >> it wasn't until her daughter kobe was diagnosed with adhd that davis discovered she had it too m too. she turned to the internet and found children and adults with attention deficit disorders or chadd. >> they provide research. they provide a wealth of
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the mystery of flight 370. we want to follow the breaking news and reiterate what we've been reporting. multiple sources telling us pentagon barbara starr saying the plane likely flowing two paths into the indian ocean, a northerly path as well as a more southerly path. the one towards the northeast and the other one towards the south. whichever way the plane went authorities tell barbara the plane likely, likely crashed in the ocean but there's no certainty, not yet. "the new york times" is reporting, meanwhile, the plane experienced significant changes in altitude after it lost contact with ground control and altered its course more than once as if, as if it was still under the command of a pilot. we're going to have much more coming up throughout the night here on cnn. you're going to want to stay and watch all of our reporting. i'm wolf blitzer in "the situation room." once again, you can always tweet us if you want @wolfblitzer.
tweet the show @cnnsitroom. erin burnett "out front" starts right now. next breaking news about missing flight 370. a new report says the plane changed altitude dramatically after losing contact with ground control and that it changed direction more than once. what happened in that cockpit. plus, what it may have felt like in the plane during those dramatic altitude changes and why some families of missing loved ones say they are hoping it was a hijacking. let's go "out front." good evening, everyone. i'm erin burnett. we begin "out front" tonight with breaking news. a major report from "the new york times" says malaysia airlines 370 went through several sarp